MatchDay Memory–1974: Part 6 (South America)

Forty years ago I came into the world and while I may not have made an impact on the game of soccer, it has surely made an impact on me.  Playing the game from a very early age, I didn’t start following the game until my early 20’s.  Starting with Manchester United, I eventually started reading everything I could get my hands on and watching whatever game was on, learning about the rich and complex history of the game.  My MatchDay Memory posts over the next few weeks will focus on events in world soccer during the year of my birth, 1974.  It is in no way a comprehensive summation but rather an examination of teams and incidents that I was drawn to in my research.


figueroa, elias 1966 chile A

Moving on to South America, I came across Elias Figueroa.  I had heard Tim Vickery mention the Chilean from time to time on the World Football Phone In, but had no idea of the player’s stature.  Figueroa suffered from health problems as a youth but overcame those to win numerous awards as an individual and as part of a team.  This highly decorated player won league championships in Chile, Uruguay and Brazil and in 1974 won the first of three consecutive South American Player of the Year awards.  Longevity was another aspect of his career, as he appeared in three World Cups (1966, 1974 and 1982).  The quote I came across again and again was from Franz Beckenbauer, who famously said: “I’m the European Figueroa.”

For the 1974 World Cup four teams from South American qualified: Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.

Chile qualified for the tournament after a controversial playoff against the Soviet Union.  Salvador Allende was elected President of Chile in 1970, but in the fall of 1973, a coup d’etat put General Pinochet in power and dissidents were rounded up with some ending up at the National Stadium.   Despite diplomatic relations being broken off with the Soviet Union, the team traveled to Moscow and secured a 0-0 draw and the second leg was scheduled for two months later in Santiago.  Hearing of the conditions, the Soviet Union asked for the return leg to be played at a neutral venue.  FIFA inspected the stadium, which had been sanitized for their visit, and the go ahead was given to play at the National Stadium.  In response to the decision, the Soviet Union did not come to Chile and forfeited the match, but the Chileans had to kick off and score a goal to complete proceedings, which they did, passing down the field, kicking the ball into the empty net and retiring to the locker room. Television programs produced by Al Jazeera and ESPN dig deep into the sporting and political issues at stake for this match.  Once in West Germany, La Roja had a tough first stage group with both German teams and finished third.

Uruguay did not make much of an impression, earning only one point and scoring one goal to finish last in their group.  Argentina lost their opening match to Poland but recovered to finish second and move on into a tough semi final group with Brazil.  Los Albicelestes were stuffed by Holland 4-0, lost to Brazil, and finished with a draw against East Germany.  Brazil were one of the four seeded teams and finished second in their group to Yugoslavia.  After two wins in the second group stage the Seleção faced Holland for a place in the World Cup Final, but two second half goals from Neeskens and Cruyff saw the Dutch advance.

Finishing up with the continental club tournament, I admit that I am not that familiar with the Copa Libertadores, so I took the chance to look at the 1974 edition of the competition.  The first stage of the tournament saw five groups of four, with the group winners advancing to the next round (Huracán, São Paulo, Millonarios, Defensor Lima, and Peñarol).  Skimming the groups, the sections were arranged with two teams from each country, which I found strange.  Surely you would want new and exotic match ups, but perhaps travel was a concern as neighboring countries were put together.

Independiente of Argentina joined the competition at the second group stage as reigning champions.  Two groups of 3 played home and away to determine the finalists—Independiente and São Paulo.  The two teams split the home and away final, with Independiente winning the decisive playoff for the third of four straight Copa Libertadores titles.


I chose 1974 simply because it was the year I was born, yet in reviewing the events of those 12 months it was interesting to see how many precursors and foundations and glimpses into the future were present.  The eternal battle between disciplined defenses against attack minded opponents; players and clubs searching for the next dollar/euro/monetary unit; shock results;  the constant emergence of new and dynamic talent from all around the world.  In 1974 I imagine that there were unknown pockets of activity around the world, complete with rich storylines and regional influence, and stories these days are now part of the worldwide narrative thanks to the internet and globalization.  Teams, players, coaches and cultures are more familiar and are part of a global fabric, with the game belonging to the world and being shared with the world.  Part of the sharing is this project, which was hard work, but informative and enlightening, and I hope you have enjoyed this look back into footballing history.



1974 World Cup Wikipedia page

1974 Copa Libertadores Wikipedia page

Caszely and the demise of Allende, Football Rebels Series for Aljazeera

The Opposition, 30 for 30 Series on ESPN

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